Trump’s triumph with UAE-Israel accord has unleashed a ‘preference cascade’ of Middle East peace developments
A dam has broken and our media are desperate to avert our eyes from it. I am stunned at the succession of positive developments that has followed the announcement almost a month ago that the United Arab Emirates is normalizing relations with Israel. Momentum is accelerating toward the long dreamed-of goal of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
I have to pinch myself after writing such a thing to remind myself that decade after decade of strenuous effort has failed, frustrating presidents of both parties and stymieing plan after plan put forth by diplomats and NGOs. Yet, improbable as it may seem to the smart set, Donald Trump, denounced as an imminent threat to world peace by almost all the academic, diplomatic, and journalistic elites, may have triggered the process of reconciling the Arab world to peaceful coexistence with Israel.
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Among the good news announced just this week:
- The Arab League refused a Palestinian Authority initiative to condemn the AE’s normalization and appears to have pressured the PA into softening its position. The handwriting is on the wall for the PA.
- Chad, an African republic with a majority Muslim population, has announced it will establish diplomatic relations with Israel and will consider putting its embassy in Jerusalem.
- Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have announced that they will allow Israeli airliners to fly over their airspace traveling east toward the Gulf and beyond to Asia. This will cut several hours of flying time off of flights, and vastly enhance the ability of businesses to form new deals and tourists to travel. It makes clear that Saudi Arabia is following the path of the UAE. As does the following:
- The Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca delivered a sermon hinting at normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The New Arab, a London-based, Qatari-funded private media outlet, reported over the weekend that Abdul Rahman al-Sudais used his sermon to emphasize tolerance and cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims.
- Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the UAE has instructed all hotels to offer kosher menus. In truth, halal food and kosher food are very similar, so if rabbis are brought in to bless the slaughterhouses and food preparation facilities, this can be accomplished at relatively low cost. Nonetheless the symbolic importance is gigantic, as guests will be reminded of normalization every time they see a menu.)
- Greece, Cyprus and Israel just signed a historic military cooperation agreement. This is clearly aimed at Turkey, which is, along with Iran, one of the chief opponents of the normalization between Israel and the UAE.
- And, in a harbinger of much more to come, South Korea is nearing a free trade agreement with Israel, now that it is clear that its extensive trade ties with the Arab world will not be negatively impacted by deepening ties with Israel. This will be hugely important for the two countries but will also signal enterprises in countries all over the world that they are free to invest and trade with Israel without giving up ties to the Arab economies.
These developments and others to come are best understood as a “preference cascade.”
The concept of the Preference Cascade is credited to Turkish economist Timur Kuran. Glenn Reynolds described the idea in a 2002 op-ed, Patriotism and Preferences
In short, average people behave the way they think they ought to, even though that behavior might not reflect their own personal feelings.
Given a sufficient "A-HA!" moment when they discover that their personal feelings are shared by a large portion of the population their behavior may change dramatically. An example of this is the British colonists before and after publication of Thomas Paine's Common Sense. A year before the Declaration of Independence, America was full of patriotic British convinced that things could be worked out with King George, but on July 4, 1776 the colonies were full of Americans determined that they needed independence.
President Trump has already accomplished a miracle. If he is re-elected, the miracle of Middle East peace may well be among his historic achievements.